Electric vehicles (EVs) seem to be the answer to many of our environmental issues. These include greenhouse gases and poor-quality air.
Cars that run on electricity are supposed to reduce smog, slow global warming, and eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels. But are they really helping us accomplish these things?
The answer is complicated.
Electric cars do not emit any exhaust because of the way they are built and powered. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no emissions involved in their whole life-cycle.
Keep reading below to learn more about EV’s CO2 emissions and whether they are as good for the environment as car manufacturers claim.
When we talk about whether an electric vehicle decreases CO2 emissions, we typically think of direct emissions. In a traditional, gas-powered car, the exhaust is a direct emission. However, most electric vehicles do not expel any exhaust due to their unique engines.
An internal-combustion engine produces nearly 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. However, a fully electric vehicle only produces a quarter of that at barely 4,000 pounds per year. Even a hybrid vehicle creates half the carbon emissions of an exclusively gas-powered.
When it comes to direct emissions, electric vehicles don’t even come close to producing as much as traditional cars.
We can’t talk about the CO2 reduction benefits of EV’s without considering indirect emissions. Things get a little more complicated when we look at all the emissions associated with electric cars.
Before you get an EV, it must be manufactured. Before that, its parts must be sourced and engineered. Moreover, the electric lithium battery, the reason EVs have no direct emissions, must be disposed of once it reaches the end of its life.
These aspects of an electric car’s life-cycle are often forgotten. However, the processes involved in creating and dismantling an EV create indirect emissions.
Simply, indirect emissions are those that are related to the electric car but are not created by the vehicle as a single unit. Rather, these emissions are byproducts of the electric vehicle life-cycle.
Because of these byproducts, many contest the idea that EVs actually reduce emissions in any comparable ways to high emission junkers, for example.
Acquiring the materials to create an electric car requires mining for hundreds of thousands of pounds of raw metal. Moreover, the lithium-ion battery used to power the vehicle is highly reactive and can seep toxins during extraction.
Consequently, there is nothing clean or environmentally-friendly about sourcing materials for EVs. In many ways, this part of the process is no better than conventional vehicles.
Manufacturing is one of the greatest sources of carbon emissions and pollution of all kinds for any industry. The EV industry is no different.
In fact, some say that manufacturing an electric car creates more carbon emissions than producing a traditional car. However, it is difficult to measure and compare exactly.
Source of Electricity
The source of energy used to power an EV also contributes to indirect emissions. To eliminate emissions that result from car charging, you would have to use a station powered by a renewable source of energy such as wind or solar. Unfortunately, many charging stations still source energy from natural gas and coal.
The key component of EVs that makes them green is also the same part that can cause environmental damage. Lithium-ion batteries must be replaced eventually. And currently, the process of recycling them is not as easy as the one we have for gas-powered car batteries.
Improving Electric Vehicles
Evidently, electric vehicles still have a ways to go before they can be touted as the perfect answer for our carbon emission issues. However, the issues don’t lie with the vehicles themselves, rather in the manufacturing and powering systems involved.
EVs produce zero emissions on the road and are helping to reduce air pollution in heavily congested cities. But to be emission-free, their source of energy must become 100 percent renewable and clean. Additionally, improvements to battery recycling must be implemented.
Despite their issues and concerns, electric vehicles still produce fewer carbon emissions throughout their entire life compared to their gas-powered counterparts.
And with more countries switching to renewable sources of energy, the indirect emissions from EVs are slowly decreasing. Even in the worst-case scenario, fully electric vehicles will emit 28 percent less CO2 than gasoline vehicles.